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Part I.

The Hidden Web

The media domain is vast and interconnected, involving hundreds of thousands of people operating in a diverse set of enterprises. It utilizes mass communication to deliver news and entertainment through mediums such as film, radio, television, music, books, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. While that gives you a general, overall definition of the media domain, it is important to realize that my focus for this article will be slightly more specific. I will be viewing the media domain from the top-down, dealing exclusively with what I term the mainstream media. This refers to the biggest and the most well-known media corporations, and the people who control them.

This section will untangle the hidden web that connects all of the various aspects of the mainstream media. To fully understand this hidden web, such as the reasons for its formation and existence, you must also appreciate the true nature of the agenda (indeed, as you will find out, the ruthless agenda). You see, there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. The web exists because of the agenda, and the agenda is carried out through the web. Because of this inherent inseparability, you will begin to get a very good sense of what the agenda is during this discussion of the web. In the following section, The Ruthless Agenda, I will explicitly outline the agenda, but primarily I will be dealing with the symptoms or outward manifestations of the agenda that can be observed through the mainstream media.

The hidden web contains multiple layers with varying degrees of opacity. These layers can be broken up into two main categories. The first category is slightly less opaque and involves the mainstream media's corporate connections. The second category deals with the ties to several highly secretive organizations.

Corporate Connections

The Big Five

Despite the enormous scope of the media domain, the number of corporations which control the vast majority of it can be counted on one hand. These corporations are known as the "Big Five." They are: AOL/Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, News Corporation, and General Electric. It is difficult if not impossible to determine the exact share of the mainstream media market in the U.S. that these five mega-corporations own, but many estimate it to be over 80%. To accompany this article, I have prepared charts which details the holdings of the Big Five. When you see all of what they own and control, that 80% estimate probably seems a little low. All of the major TV networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, are owned by the Big Five, including major record labels, movie studios, magazines, radio stations, ISPs, satellite providers, websites, and newspapers.

My discussion of the web will naturally revolve around these five corporations. As you shall see, the Big Five are so intertwined that they rather act like one huge corporation. It would be incorrect to say that they are separate, competing entities. The Big Five is the Mediopoly. They operate like a cartel. Together they lobby Washington and the FCC with the same goals in mind: looser restrictions, less regulation, and the maximization of profits. They form strategic alliances and engage in joint media ventures. They own stock in one another, provide content that is identical in a lot of respects, and interlock with the biggest corporations of other industrial sectors.

Consolidation

In 1983, an author by the name of Ben Bagdikian wrote a groundbreaking and critical exposé of the mainstream media called The Media Monopoly. In that first edition, Bagdikian documented how fifty corporations controlled more than half of the total media market. Later editions of his work would reveal the profound changes that the media industry has undergone. By the third edition of The Media Monopoly, published in 1990, fifty corporations had been reduced to twenty-three. In his latest edition (2004), Bagdikian documents only five corporations who control the vast majority of the media market in America. This trend of rapid consolidation is alarming and unprecedented. In just two decades, we have seen the power to hold sway over millions, or more accurately billions of people shift into the hands of an increasingly smaller group of individuals. The web is being spun tighter and tighter.

Let us consider one of the major implications of this recent trend towards media consolidation -- its capacity to severely limit competition. Any independent, start-up business wishing to compete with these media behemoths on a national scale would find it nearly, if not completely, impossible. Many former independent media businesses who used to compete with their larger rivals have been bought out. They have been, in a sense, consumed by the larger predators.

Any economist will tell you that competition in the marketplace is a wonderful thing. We all benefit when businesses compete. However, businesses generally do not like competition, and work to eliminate it. They naturally tend towards forming a monopoly position, which is when a business has effectively shut out all competition. By forming a monopoly, they can set prices and derive a maximum amount of profits for whatever goods or services they provide. To prevent that from happening, we have what are known as antitrust laws in place. The government agency responsible for regulation and the enforcement of antitrust laws for media companies is the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

In the past decade, there has been a wave of deregulation by the FCC for media companies. Protections that were in place for consumers have been lifted in favor of big business. There are several important reasons for this. For one, media companies have a tremendous amount of influence over politicians, who in turn appoint the FCC members. The influence the media has over politicians is implicit; they control whether or not a politician gets his or her face on the television, and if so, what kind of stories they wish to run. The second reason has to do with the lobbying efforts of the media companies. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the year 2000, the Big Five (through their respective networks ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and FOX) spent $27 million to fund lobbying efforts. Furthermore, from 1998 to 2003, a time during which the FCC was holding several rounds of talks regarding the loosening of media ownership restrictions, the Center for Public Integrity found that "the lobbying expenditures by the broadcast industry ha(d) risen 74 percent." A third reason for the recent wave of deregulation has to do with the intimate and sometimes complex connections between several former FCC Commissioners and the industry which they are supposed to regulate. Two examples include past FCC Chairmen Michael Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and William Kennard, who sits on the Board of Directors for The New York Times Company.

The vast consolidation that continues to occur in the media marketplace has another dangerous implication -- news agencies that are consumed by these giant corporations end up just being a fraction of the total operation, and news itself is reduced to a mere industrial byproduct. It serves the function of just being another profit-making arm for the corporation. The news is used to this end, in conjunction with all of the other sectors of the corporate operation. This puts a spin on all of the news reporting, a bias that favors the host corporation in particular and big business in general. This is one of the most fundamental problems with the news media, and the media industry as a whole. Unbiased, unfiltered information is critical for us to make good decisions, whether we are casting our ballots in the voting booth or "voting" with our dollars in the marketplace. Our access to such unbiased information has been severely compromised by the processes which have transformed the media industry. We can no longer count on media companies to serve the role of public trustees, where we are largely the beneficiaries of what they produce. Instead, we must recognize the self-serving agenda that caters almost exclusively to the interests of big corporations and their stockholders.

When discussing the media monopoly, there is an important distinction to make. In this article I mainly focus on the all-encompassing Mediopoly. This involves, to varying degrees, all of the mainstream media outlets, and is more of a virtual or implied monopoly. In contrast, there are many monopolies in their truest sense that exist in localized media markets around the country. Understand that these smaller monopolies play a huge part in the overall Mediopoly, but there are many other factors to the Mediopoly that I will be discussing. The best example of local media monopolies involves newspapers. To illustrate this point, consider the following statistic (courtesy of Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly): “By 1986, of all cities with a daily paper, 98 percent had only one newspaper management (in 1910 more than half of all newspaper cities had local daily competition, typically five or six papers).” From this we can see that in most cases (98 percent), there is a monopoly on the local, daily newspaper service. Even in our capitol there is only one newspaper that controls the local market -- The Washington Post. Around the world, it is not uncommon to find a dozen or so competing newspapers in major cities and especially capitol cities. Here in the U.S., we are at the mercy of a handful of major newspaper chains like Gannett and News Corporation that consume local newspapers and eliminate local voices and competition. Because of the loosening of media ownership restrictions by the FCC, influenced heavily by the media industry itself, it is now possible for a single corporation to own the main newspaper, three television stations, eight radio stations, and the entire cable-television system of a local market.

The connections I have drawn so far are not necessarily common knowledge, as the media never reports such facts about itself, but they do represent a more visible layer of the web. They also represent connections which have been internalized. As I begin to dig deeper, you will see that these visible, internal connections were formed from a pre-existing network of hidden, external connections. This hidden network still exists, and if it weren't for the few remaining ownership restrictions maintained by the FCC, we would surely see the Big Five merge into one giant corporation. But my point is that it really wouldn't matter if they did. The connections are already there, and they actually have been for a very long time. The Mediopoly continues to exist right under the surface.

Corporate Board of Directorships

This next category deals with the myriad of corporate connections that are formed through corporate board of directorships. I gave one example of this earlier, when I mentioned that William Kennard, former FCC Chariman, sits on the Board of Directors for The New York Times Company. I also mentioned Michael Powell, but did not mention the fact that his father, Colin Powell, has sat on the Board of Directors for America Online, now owned by Time Warner of the Big Five. These are strategic alliances that align corporate media with its regulators and its advertisers, and in general they unite our country's biggest corporations. This important aspect of the web can be summed up quite nicely with the following selection from an article written by Peter Phillips for the Project Censored website titled, "Big Media Interlocks with Corporate America". Mr. Phillips relates the following profound statistics:

"A research team at Sonoma State University has recently finished conducting a network analysis of the boards of directors of the ten big media organizations in the US. The team determined that only 118 people comprise the membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. This is a small enough group to fit in a moderate size university classroom. These 118 individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and international corporations. In fact, eight out of ten big media giants share common memberships on boards of directors with each other. NBC and the Washington Post both have board members who sit on Coca Cola and J. P. Morgan, while the Tribune Company, The New York Times and Gannett all have members who share a seat on Pepsi. It is kind of like one big happy family of interlocks and shared interests. The following are but a few of the corporate board interlocks for the big ten media giants in the US:

New York Times: Caryle Group, Eli Lilly, Ford, Johnson and Johnson, Hallmark, Lehman Brothers, Staples, Pepsi
Washington Post: Lockheed Martin, Coca-Cola, Dun & Bradstreet, Gillette, G.E. Investments, J.P. Morgan, Moody’s
Knight-Ridder: Adobe Systems, Echelon, H&R Block, Kimberly-Clark, Starwood Hotels
The Tribune (Chicago & LA Times): 3M, Allstate, Caterpillar, Conoco Phillips, Kraft, McDonalds, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, Shering Plough, Wells Fargo
News Corp (Fox): British Airways, Rothschild Investments
GE (NBC): Anheuser-Busch, Avon, Bechtel, Chevron/Texaco, Coca-Cola, Dell, GM, Home Depot, Kellogg, J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, Motorola, Procter & Gamble
Disney (ABC): Boeing, Northwest Airlines, Clorox, Estee Lauder, FedEx, Gillette, Halliburton, Kmart, McKesson, Staples, Yahoo
Viacom (CBS): American Express, Consolidated Edison, Oracle, Lafarge North America
Gannett: AP, Lockheed-Martin, Continental Airlines, Goldman Sachs, Prudential, Target, Pepsi
AOL-Time Warner (CNN): Citigroup, Estee Lauder, Colgate-Palmolive, Hilton"

This is by no means a comprehensive list, as Mr. Phillips alluded to. Also, some of the media companies he mentions besides the ones in the Big Five are going to be discussed in a little more detail later. Anyway, in regards to his findings, I would say that they add a tremendous amount of detail to the web, which now appears tightly woven and profoundly complex. All of these ties through the boards of directors raises another very important issue, regarding the impartiality of the news media when, or if, they report on their parent companies and companies through which they are affiliated. How, for example, can we trust NBC to report on the activities of General Electric in an unbiased fashion? We can't, obviously, and by association no mainstream media establishment can be trusted to report on the entire web of media giants, politicians, and corporations that they're affiliated with.

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